Pic by Vick the Vicking (c)
I came across an interesting story by John Adair in his book, Effective Innovation, on the secret of Japanese manufacturing success. Adair is one of the world’s leading authorities on leadership and leadership development. He narrates that he came across this secret by serendipity at a speaking engagement in Malaysia. He asked the Japanese speakers at the conference: why Japanese manufacturers allowed Western companies to tour their factories and steal their Kaizen techniques for incremental product improvements?
Adair was curious why they simply allowed their Western competitors to walk in and study their best practices and ideas for free? His Japanese friend smiled and said that reason is because they know that their competitors will not do it.
In the movie Matrix, Laurence Fishburne’s character, Morpheus, said to Neo (Keanu Reeves) – “There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” The Western companies know what the Japanese companies do to make themselves successful but struggle to implement those things in their own organizations. Adair’s story reminds me of the difference between knowledge, understanding and wisdom. These three terms are sometimes used interchangeably but are not totally the same.
I believe that knowledge is all about knowing what to do in a given situation; understanding is knowing the reason(s) for taking action and wisdom is doing it. A friend of mine provided me with another template: knowledge is the information; understanding is the revelation and wisdom is the application or implementation.
You can’t be successful or effective if you stop at the knowledge phase and ignore the understanding and application or implementation phase. At the same time, you can’t walk the path if you don’t know the path. All three phases are needed for success.
There is a stanza in Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Mary Gloster, which sums up Adair’s story.
“They copied all they could follow,
But they couldn’t follow my mind;
And I left them sweating and stealing,
A year and a half behind.”